Tigers' bullpen spoils Bonderman's gem
Mariners rally for four runs in eighth inning off Perry
SEATTLE -- The Tigers were at Safeco Field for barely 24 hours and had late-inning heartbreak twice. As much as losing with Justin Verlander on the mound hurt Detroit, however, Wednesday hurt more.
For seven innings of this 5-4 loss to the Mariners, Jeremy Bonderman looked like he was back to his front-line starter self, only with more pitchability. It wasn't just the five-hit performance, it was the efficiency with which he did it, using just 94 pitches in the process.
The way Detroit's bullpen has pitched this season to date, it seemed like a sure win. But the Mariners put up as many hits on Ryan Perry in the eighth as they did on Bonderman through seven. One of them was Mike Sweeney's two-run homer to put them back in the game. The last of them was Josh Wilson's two-run single to pull them back ahead.
The Tigers' final day without slugging cleanup man Miguel Cabrera was expected to remind them how much he means to their offense. Given the extra scoring chances they had, that point came home. But they also received an unexpected reminder that their talented bullpen is also a relatively young one, the 23-year-old Perry being among the youngest.
"I think you can sit here and talk until you're blue in the face, but he didn't have a good outing," manager Jim Leyland said. "The bullpen's been outstanding, like I've said a thousand times. The bullpen didn't do it today. That happens. They're not going to do it every time out.
"Those hurt, because that's a game in hand that you feel you should win, but the other team kept playing. You give them credit. They hit a home run. They got a couple big hits after that. They played nine innings hard and they beat us. I tip my hat to them. One of our better relievers didn't have it today. It's that simple."
The Tigers hadn't lost a game all season after leading through seven innings, thanks in large part to a bullpen that led the American League with a 2.33 ERA. Their first late-inning lead squandered was a big one.
Considering the early-season struggles Bonderman had to battle to get to this point, he wasn't about to point fingers.
"Our bullpen's been the strength of the team all year," Bonderman said. "Starters pitched like crap at the start of the year. [The 'pen] had a bad day. So be it."
It was not an exhausted Bonderman at the end. That wasn't why he left. Though he's getting back into the rhythm of pitching every five days again after missing a season and a half to injuries, Leyland said pitch count wasn't a factor, either. Moreover, he was just as strong late as he was early.
Not only did Bonderman retire the last seven Mariners he faced, none of them hit the ball in play out of the infield. He needed just seven pitches to retire the side in order in the seventh, thanks in part to a diving stop from fill-in first baseman Ryan Raburn to rob Michael Saunders of an extra-base leadoff hit.
It was a strong finish to an outing that showed the workhorse side that Bonderman had a few years ago.
"Today I was moving the ball in and out," Bonderman said. "I was throwing backdoor sinkers to righties and to lefties. The slider was there when I wanted it. Just kept the ball down, moving it around, and kept guys off-balance."
Said catcher Gerald Laird: "He had some of the better stuff I've seen from him since I've caught him this year."
From Leyland's standpoint, Bonderman had done everything he needed to turn over a lead to Detroit's late-inning bullpen, the group that had been a big reason the Tigers hadn't lost a game they led through seven innings. There was no debate from Leyland whether to send Bonderman back out for the eighth.
"I just felt it was definitely the right move to make," Leyland said. "You felt like it's set up with the right-handed hitters. Bonderman, he was OK. No excuses on my part. He was OK. But you watch it when it gets like that.
"I felt the inning before, they just missed hitting a double down the line, and [Chone] Figgins just skied one up, missed it. I felt like it was set up. I do watch him, absolutely, but I don't want any excuses. I felt totally comfortable."
Perry has been the right-handed setup man all season, having recorded a save and nine holds without blowing a lead. Three batters into this situation, though, Perry appeared in trouble.
"I felt like I had a couple good pitches they hit and a couple bad ones," Perry said. "They capitalized on mistakes."
Franklin Gutierrez's leadoff single off a full-count pitch might've been the harbinger, but Perry regrouped to strike out hot-hitting Milton Bradley. It was Perry's next pitch, a slider over the plate that Sweeney golfed into the left-field bleachers, that changed the tone dramatically.
After Jose Lopez's ensuing single put the potential tying run on base, Leyland went to the mound to try to calm him down.
"I told him, 'Look, you're fine,'" Leyland said. "This is all part of the process of growing as a pitcher. Just turn the page and concentrate on making pitches."
Perry felt he did turn the page. The Mariners kept coming. Rob Johnson fouled off a 2-2 slider, worked the count full and nearly drove a fastball out for a go-ahead homer. Instead, the ball bounced high off the left-field scoreboard, and a quick pursuit from Don Kelly prevented Lopez from trying to score.
It was temporary. With one out and the tying run on third, Perry looked for a strikeout or a ground ball. Wilson lined a fastball to left, angled just enough to center to give Kelly no chance of throwing out Johnson at the plate.
"It just seemed like a few of his pitches kept coming back across the middle of the plate," Laird said. "They put some good swings on them and hit some balls hard. That's a game you feel like you have to win, but that's baseball."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.